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Walker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

June 5, 2017

JOHN WALKER PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         John Walker (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Act. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 5.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI were filed on March 12, 2013. (Tr. 32). Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to mental problems and illiterate. (Tr. 263). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of September 27, 2012. (Tr. 32, 263). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 48-51, 58-59). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his applications and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 161).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on March 19, 2015. (Tr. 49-84). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Russell Byrne, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Dale Thomas testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was forty-five (45) years old and had a tenth grade education. (Tr. 53-54).

         On April 24, 2015, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 32-43). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through June 30, 2013. (Tr. 34, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since September 27, 2012, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 34, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairment of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, antisocial personality traits, substance addiction disorder, and seizure disorder. (Tr. 34, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 35, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 37-41). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC for medium work, however, he must avoid working in proximity to unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery; cannot operate a motor vehicle; can understand, remember, and carry out only short, simple instructions; can perform only simple, routine, and repetitive tasks with no fast paced, high quota production work; can make only simple work-related decisions; can adapt to few, if any, workplace changes; and can tolerate only occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the general public. (Tr. 37, Finding 5).

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 41-43, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff was capable of performing his PRW as a hand packer. Id. The ALJ also determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 42). As a result, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from September 27, 2012 through the date of his decision. (Tr. 43, Finding 7).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 27-28). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-4). On July 20, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on July 22, 2016. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11, 14. This case is now ready for decision.

         2. Applicable Law:

         In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). As long as there is substantial evidence in the record that supports the Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. See Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). If, after reviewing the record, it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the findings of the ALJ, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. See Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).

         It is well established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving his or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines a “physical or mental impairment” as “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f). The fact finder only considers the plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his or her RFC if the final stage of this analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).

         3. Discussion:

         Plaintiff brings the present appeal claiming the ALJ erred: (A) by failing to find Plaintiff met a Listing, (B) in the weight given the opinions of Plaintiff's physician, and (C) in failing to properly consider Plaintiff's subjective complaints. ECF No. 11, Pgs. 2-20. In response, the Defendant argues the ALJ did not err in any of his findings. ECF No. 14.

         A. ...


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